By Ruzanna Khachatrian, and Ruzanna Stepanian in Strasbourg
Armenia’s top legislator on Wednesday struck a pessimistic note about the possibility of government forces engaging in dialogue with the part of the opposition represented by former president and defeated presidential candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian.
“Dialogue has been offered to all political forces,” Tigran Torosian told RFE/RL. “No one in the opposition is in a privileged position. But today’s behavior of Levon Ter-Petrosian and the political force that he leads clearly shows that they have never sought dialogue and are not in pursuit of this goal today either.”
Ter-Petrosian’s spokesman, however, strongly disagreed with this statement, saying that still on March 4, in a speech at the Constitutional Court “Ter-Petrosian declared that he accepted the proposals of the European Union presidency which called for dialogue after the demands for an end to the emergency rule, an immediate release of prisoners and a start of an independent international inquiry had been fulfilled.”
“Meanwhile, the authorities have not made a single step aimed at ensuring this dialogue,” Arman Musinian told RFE/RL.
Engaging in dialogue with opposition forces was one of the several recommendations contained in this week’s draft resolution of the Monitoring Commission of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on the state of democratic institutions in Armenia. The draft which is scheduled to come up for approval during the urgent debate on Thursday also calls upon Armenian authorities to launch an independent inquiry into the March 1-2 post-election violence that claimed at least 10 lives, to release all prisoners who did not commit crimes, amend the law on assemblies and ensure an increased role of the opposition in political processes.
Torosian called the provisions made in the draft resolution acceptable and realistic. At the same time, he voiced his opinion that none of the detained oppositionists were under prosecution for their political views.
“Of course, it is up to the court to give the final assessment. But I hope that none of those currently kept in custody were detained without grounds to suspect that they committed crimes,” Torosian said.
In the draft resolution the Strasbourg-based pan-European organization in particular warned that Armenia may be stripped of its right to vote already at the PACE’s session in June “if no essential progress is made on the requirements of starting a serious dialogue around reforms among political forces in Armenia.”
Armen Rustamian, a member of Armenia’s delegation at the PACE session, explained to RFE/RL that this would mean depriving Armenia of participation in crucial votes.
“I think there are all grounds for us to be able to take significant steps before the June session to avoid this sanction,” Rustamian said.
Earlier, on Tuesday, Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg also emphasized the proposal that all oppositionists jailed for expressing their anti-government opinions must be freed.
He also called for cooperation with Armenian authorities in conducting the investigation into the post-election clashes between opposition demonstrators and security forces.
“We are now waiting for an all clear message from the government that they are willing to have this cooperation and what type of expertise they would like to have in order to undertake this important investigation,” Hammarberg said.
Commenting on this statement, Armenian Prosecutor-General’s Office spokeswoman Sona Truzian said to RFE/RL that they had sent written offers to the OSCE and the United Nations representations in Yerevan regarding involving international experts, however, according to her, the offers were not accepted, with absence of such a precedent cited as a reason. The spokeswoman added, however, that in any case Armenian prosecutors would be willing and grateful to international structures if they could provide expert assistance and were ready to ensure all proper conditions for international specialists’ work.
Meanwhile, the Armenian parliament on Wednesday completed discussions with experts from the Venice Commission and the OSCE/ODIHR over Armenia’s recently amended law on assemblies. The discussions ended in a signed memorandum and the draft of amendments is due to be sent for European expertise until April 25.
“There are four proposals on all of which we have had full agreement regarding further steps,” Torosian said, adding that after findings from the Commission changes are likely to be moved into the law.